Ms Boulange

Francois had left his small apartment in the same fashion as previous days. A turning of the key thrice for the deadbolt to completely latch, a swagger down the five flights of stairs, carefully avoiding the creek of the 2nd floor 14th step, placing his feet carefully on the tiled ground floor as not to slip and pressing the green exit button on his left.

As he moved into the daylight, he surveyed his surrounds. The street was quiet this morning. He gave a small wave to Monsieur Brondai across the way at the thrift store, and took his ever painful gaze from the fruit and vegetable owner, Monsieur Gaval. He fleetingly waved to Gaval, knowing, as always, that it would not be reciprocated.

It was a brisk morning. Francois had forgotten his gloves but was thankful for the deep pockets in his coat, in which he placed his hands.

As he walked up to Rue Petit, he stumbled over a small crack in the footpath, cursing on his way. They should fix that he mumbled to himself, knowing full well that they never would. 

Francois placed one of his earphones in his ear, knowing that he would need one more moment for Ms Boulange. She had stood outside her apartment every morning for as long as he could remember, and it became a customary occasion to speak with her for a minute before carrying on with her day.

Bonjour Madame Boulange, he would say. She would respond as such, leaving his name of the greeting. He had never questioned her, in case she had some sort of medical issue that made her forget what his name was. At 80, you barely have time to question there methods.

And as he swirled around the small scaffolding out the front of the wine shop (it was being redecorated due to the new owners having moved in), he stopped.

The front step of Number 19 did not have a small woman, dressed in whatever finery she could muster from her ageing wardrobe, standing on it.

Ms Boulange was nowhere to be seen. The lack of her presence was immediately felt. Francois looked left and right, discretely, to see if she had moved on from her usual position unexpectedly. This was quite unusual, and for a moment, he became concerned. Worried in fact, that the woman that he was so used to seeing on a daily basis, had defied the routine.

Had she died?

Francois was annoyed that this was his first reaction. He had seen her yesterday, in that same very spot, and she looked as she always had. Nothing unremarkable. And to posit that she had passed felt something akin to a lack of caring. He did care for her. Not as a child or family member would. He had never seen them with her. But as someone who for a fleeting moment, looked out for an old lady, whose kind disposition was enough for him to start his day. She made him care.

He could stand still no longer. The brevity of their usual chats was due to him having to catch the 8:45 2 train for work. Francois looked at his watch, 8:42. He had to go. He had to move to the station lest he be ate for work. Which thanks in part to Ms Boulange and her regularity, he had never been.

He shuffled off, slow at first and then quickening the pace to catch his train.

Justin Batchelor